1708612441 MLS commissioner makes harsh comments about referees and US Open

MLS commissioner makes harsh comments about referees and US Open Cup ahead of season opener

Just hours before the start of Major League Soccer's 29th season in Fort Lauderdale, MLS commissioner Don Garber criticized the Professional Soccer Referees Association for its approach to collective bargaining. He also explained the league's view of its role in the US Open Cup, saying MLS has “long supported and subsidized this tournament.”

The Professional Referees Organization (PRO), the group that manages match officials in U.S. and Canadian professional leagues, locked out referees, leading MLS to install replacement referees in the interim after referees' union members voted overwhelmingly to do so , to reject the preliminary plan of their leadership with PRO. for a new collective agreement (GAV) with 95.8 percent “no”.

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Garber said he couldn't recall a union rejecting an agreement negotiated by its elected leadership and wondered whether the negotiations and votes that led to the lockout in the days before the season began were “intentional.”

“They (PRO) reached an agreement with the PSRA before the start of the season and their members did not support that agreement,” Garber said. “In my almost 40 years in the sport, I cannot remember a bargaining unit reaching an agreement and then its members not supporting it. Very disappointing. In my opinion, the process was either intentional or there is a disconnect between members and their elected negotiators. I am therefore confident that an agreement can be reached. We are prepared. It's not the way MLS was hoping to start a season, but you can't really negotiate with a company that, in my opinion, hasn't really negotiated fairly with PRO.”

Members of the union and other supporters protested outside the MLS and PRO offices in New York and also in the Dallas area on Wednesday before the opening game between Inter Miami and Real Salt Lake in Florida.

Garber said he couldn't predict when the lockout might end because “we don't even know what they're looking for because we agreed with their elected representatives.”

“I would have hoped that they would have come and told us what the officials were looking for, what their elected representatives couldn't provide them, instead of spending their time protesting outside our offices and doing whatever else “To get everyone going,” Garber said. “Since I became commissioner, I have conducted countless labor negotiations. We extended the negotiation window several times, which was requested by the PSRA, and we proposed a no-lockout, no-strike clause, which they rejected. So (I'm) sitting here today not quite sure what the next step is.

“I’m sure at some point they will communicate their expectations to PRO and we will have to manage that process.”

When asked what he thought could bring the sides together, Garber said that from his perspective it was difficult to give an answer.

“It’s pretty difficult to predict what a solution would look like when you don’t even know what you’re negotiating,” Garber said. “That's why I think it almost seems like it was intentional. I don't know how you get to a point where there's a work stoppage and not knowing what you're disagreeing about. It’s frustrating, I could imagine it’s frustrating for the fans, it’s certainly frustrating for us, but we’ll see how it turns out.”

Garber also addressed questions about the league's future participation in the US Open Cup.

MLS announced its intention to field its MLS Next Pro teams in the Open Cup in December, but that request was rejected by US Soccer. However, in recent weeks, reports have suggested that MLS is still looking at ways to reduce its participation in the Open Cup.

Sources told The Athletic on Wednesday that only eight MLS teams are expected to participate in the 2024 Open Cup tournament.

The US Open Cup, founded in 1913, is governed and administered by the United States Soccer Federation. It includes teams from all levels of soccer in the United States, from the amateur level through the lower divisions of American soccer to the MLS.

Garber began a response to the tournament by dismissing the idea that MLS did not support the lower divisions, particularly the USL.

“We have contributed a tremendous amount to supporting the pyramid,” Garber said. “Without the MLS second teams competing in the USL when it restarted, I’m not sure the USL would be where it is today. And we would have been more than happy to stay in the USL if we hadn't been asked to leave school. That's why I want to put our commitment to the lower professional levels of soccer in America in perspective. Our investment is in MLS Next Pro, which is almost unprecedented in professional soccer. A league could field 30 to 35 teams that develop players who will ultimately compete on the U.S. National Team and help launch our first teams in a timely manner. This is a huge investment in the pyramid. But the question is: ‘Does this investment have to be made in another league that we ultimately probably don’t have the best relationship with?’ Not through any fault of ours, by the way.”

Garber said the league is struggling with scheduling congestion not only because of the Leagues Cup, a tournament it created with Liga MX, but also the CONCACAF Champions Cup and the next three years' summer tournaments – the Copa America and the Club World Cup and World Cup 2026.

Garber said the MLS is “committed to participating, and to what extent remains to be determined.”

“We will continue to do what we can to support the US Open Cup, but we will not do it in a way that places all responsibility for the success of this tournament on Major League Soccer,” Garber said. “It needs the support of our association, they have promised to show more support for this. It has to make more sense for our players and our clubs. We are currently subsidizing this tournament.”

(Photo: Omar Vega/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)